SCOTCH PLAINS/FANWOOD, NJ -- The continuance of the COVID-19 pandemic -- and the economic hardships that came along with it -- have resulted in layoffs, permanent job losses and financial stress for many families in the area. These difficulties have resulted in a substantial increase of the use of the food pantries at St. Bartholomew the Apostle Church and Immaculate Heart of Mary (IHM) in Scotch Plains. 

"I am absolutely overwhelmed by the generosity," said Geraldine Keough, who organizes the food pantry at IHM.

Keough mentioned several groups and individuals who have done extraordinary work to help maintain supplies.

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"Lisa Mohn and Jeff Stein are doing a collection every week for us at the Scotch Plains Farmers Market. The Rotary Club is selling masks and gave us $1,500. Fabio's gave us $1,350 from registrations of Sunday's classic car show, along with donations of food. Arc Electric gave us a big donation of food," she said. "I could go on. There is a list of businesses. It’s phenomenal."

"I want to encourage people to patronize these folks. They are hurting, as well. They are facing massive challenges," Keough explained. "Joe Mortarulo of Darby Road and Houdini Pizza very quietly donates. Infantino Disposal of Westfield just delivered two truckloads last week. It’s incredible generosity!"

The IHM pantry is open every Weds and the second Sunday of each month. However, if someone needs help and asks for it, IHM will get food to them, according to Keough.

"We deliver it quietly, so people don’t know what is going on. These are local people who are hurting," she said. "We also look after older people who aren’t getting out. They’re locked in."

The food pantry at St. Bart's operates a bit differently from IHM, which has specific days of operation.

"When they need help, please call and tell us that they need food," said Elaine Coupe, director of community outreach at St. Bart's.

The pantry send food to the vets at Valley Brook every other week. It also supports nurse practitioners who visit patients in Plainfield. St. Bart's also provides food to Mercy House, which services the community in Newark. 

With the money that St. Bart's received from the car show, Coupe hopes to make take-away bags with staples like shelf-stable milk, pasta,  and sauce. ("Things we can just hand to a family.")

"I would hope we are teaching the principal of 'doing on to others'," Coupe explained. "We help each other. Whenever I put out a call for anything, I get overwhelmed. We have a bin outside the rectory and have made it quite easy to donate. The amount of people looking to help in this town is incredible."

The pantry delivers food right to people’s doorsteps with a "no questions asked" policy.

"If you need food, you’ll get it," she said. "Sometimes the Fanwood and Scotch Plains police refer people. They get calls from people who need help, so they call the police." 

The need definitely has gone up since COVID.

"People have told me 'I was the person donating and now I’m embarrassed to be asking.' People who never before needed help are calling and asking," Coupe said. "I have a lot of single moms who lost their jobs. We also get a lot of seniors who don’t feel comfortable going out.

"If anything good has happened, it's that people are looking to help one another."

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